Belfast Telegraph

All-Island League was big gamble, says Gorman

Pointing way: Midfield maestro Tony Gorman in action for Linfield
Pointing way: Midfield maestro Tony Gorman in action for Linfield

By Graham Luney

Irish League legend Tony Gorman never believed an All-Island League would take off as he felt northern clubs would view it as too big a gamble.

A potential cross-border league was booted into touch by the Irish FA, who said they would not sanction any member clubs to take part in it.

And although that was a significant blow to businessman Kieran Lucid's plans, his group are still exploring options for a possible cross-border competition.

A number of Irish League clubs were keen to learn more about the project, however some remained sceptical of its value and sustainability.

The proposal centred on an all-island 14-team Premier Division with two 10-team regional leagues below it, but it now seems likely clubs will look at the merits of a cup competition.

Gorman's distinguished playing career saw him sparkle on both sides of the border as he relished the cut and thrust of midfield battles with Waterford, Galway, Finn Harps, Sligo Rovers, Linfield, Portadown, Coleraine and Crusaders.

The 49-year-old, who is head of youth at Letterkenny Rovers, still keeps a close eye on the game across the island and while Linfield will face Dundalk in a two-legged Unite the Union Champions Cup clash - with the opener at Windsor Park on Friday night - he always believed it was going to be problematic to invent a structure that would suit the overwhelming majority of clubs.

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Gorman, who was part of Marty Quinn's 2003 Irish Cup-winning side, feels northern clubs would perhaps view an All-Island League as too risky.

"I even saw a proposal that stated the top division wouldn't include Glentoran," said Gorman, whose son Dale, a former Northern Ireland Under-21 midfielder, is at Leyton Orient.

"As someone who would be recognised as a former Linfield player, I know football here needs a strong Glentoran. How can you have a big club like the Glens that bring so much to the league, including bigger attendances, out of the top flight?

"Also, you have seven European places and most of them will disappear in any new set-up. European money has become so important for clubs now.

"If I was a player I would find an All-Island League an interesting concept but I just feel the clubs missing out on that potential European money have all that to lose. Get through a few rounds in Europe and you've got £1m. That's too much to lose.

"I can remember watching Finn Harps play Linfield when I was about eight-years-old, the idea of an All-Island League or north v south fixtures has been around for a long time and while a league understandably appeals to many, northern clubs would see it as a gamble. For that reason, I wasn't convinced an All-Island League would happen."

Gorman has also had his disagreements with the FAI in his current role, adding: "I'm head of youth at Letterkenny Rovers and we are losing players to senior clubs, meaning we don't have the opportunity to develop them. I made my feelings known to the FAI but they just thanked me for my interest."

The Letterkenny man, once a goalscoring machine from midfield in his Coleraine days, is intrigued to see whether his former side can remain in the Danske Bank Premiership title race.

The Bannsiders sit top of the table and are still unbeaten after 14 matches.

Gorman has been impressed with the form of Oran Kearney's table-toppers but he insists big hurdles need to be cleared and big questions must still be answered before they can earn the tag as genuine contenders in the New Year.

"They are unbeaten but just need to be wary of drawing too many games," added Gorman, who was at Mansfield Town as a youngster. "They have drawn five which is more than any other team. Young Ben Doherty is scoring plenty and you wonder will they rely too much on him and Eoin Bradley. In tight games have they got match-winners?

"Cliftonville have Joe Gormley and both Linfield and Crusaders have top strikers like Andy Waterworth and Jordan Owens.

"I think it could be the closest title race in a number of years and Cliftonville are in there too."

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